A visualisation basd on creating a "Pure Land" space and inviting into it significant people from one's life, creating for them a suitable setting and giving gifts.
We reflected further on the question of how to develop empathy. It is not really that we lack good heartedness so much as that one’s heart is locked up. It has become covered in scales, hidden under a thick skin developed through the experience of life.
We talked about the scales around the heart developed through incidents when our love was not received. Rejections make us develop a thick skin. However there are gaps between the scales. The love seeps out in small signs. In therapy we have to pay very careful attention to these small signs coming from the client. They are the tell-tale signals of what has happened to the heart of the client.
We also talked about the usefulness of practices - both therapy exercises and spiritual practice. Recent research on brain plasticity has reinforced interest in the Buddhist methods for developing positive mental qualities. Frequent repetition of compassionate thoughts develops that part of the brain and counteracts our negative tendencies of mind. However, there is a limit to what can be done by conscious deliberate effort.
As example we looked at the story of Queen Vaidehi in the Contemplation Sutra. A person who had no particular religious training had a profound awakening experience precipitated by the combination of (a) the extremity of her distressing situation and (b) the presence of the inspiration of the Buddha’s love. The Buddha then gives Ananda a practice exercise that imitates the experience of Vaidehi, but this imitative experience cannot be as strong as the original. When the experience is constructed deliberately we remain in control, but when it comesspontaneously our control is overwhelmed and the effect is much more powerful. The Four Sights that led the Buddha to his first “going forth” illustrate the same principle: he encountered disease, old age and death and, at the same time, the experience of seeing a sadhu exhibiting the liberated life. This combination of dukkha and inspiring example brought about a change of direction in his life.
Therapy is similar. The way of being of the therapist provides the inspiration and the work takes the client deep into his dukkha (anguish). The combination of these two factors produces a kind of “chemical” reaction within the person. There is a transformation, experienced as an awakening. This awakens the tender heart of the client.
Introduced the idea of 3 levels
Communication about a topic can occur on any of these levels. We can refer to something, yet stay within the bounds of polite conversation. We can go into an issue but try only to work with it in a logical, problem-solving manner, or we can fully enter into the heart experience of it. In therapy we are generally helping the client to go down a level into a deeper experience.
Developed this into the Buddhist mind model
- Senses (6 Ayatana)
This is the "eight vijnana model" of the mind which developed around the time of the early Mahayana, perhaps a little after the time of Nagarjuna. Before that texts generally refer to the six vijnanas, which are the five object relating senses - sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste - plus the mano-vijnana which is the "mind's eye". These six vijnanas are also called six ayatana. Ayatana literally means "uncontrolable". The sense of ayatana is that the senses pick up things without us being in full control of what they grasp onto. The sense of vijnana is that they cut the world up into manageable pieces. These pieces are the rupas that then condition our mind.
Beyond the senses is manas. Manas is the calculator. This is the cognitive processing part of the mind. Beyond manas is the alaya. The six ayatanas plus manas and the alaya make up the eight vijnanas. Manas receives material from the senses and from the alaya and organises it. Manas does not make new material but it makes novel arrangements of the content of the mind. Manas is the problem solver. The alaya is the "storehouse". It contains all the material brought forward from the past. This includes all the karmic seeds plus the experience of this life, including the past results of the work of manas.
When we are new to therapy we tend to use manas too much. We try to work everything out rationally. This means that we try to identify and define a problem and then we try to solve it as though it were a logic puzzle. This is because we do not have sufficient faith or trust in the natural working of the heart/mind.
Digression on the topic of consciousness
I suggested that some distortion has entered into the interpretation of Buddhism because of the tendency of Wester philosophy - especially the "enlightenment philosophy" of the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries to privilege rationality and to see the conscious mind as superior to the unconscious mind. This has led to the idea that the aim of Buddhism is to be in a state of sharp conscious awareness all of the time. To do so however is (a) impossible (b) unhealthy. It is important that the mind have space to wander and dream. This mind wandering time is the source of creativity and it is also the time when we digest past experience. Without it it is impossible to make any sense of life. There is a time for conscious awareness and at that time it is good to have the ability to concentrate and think clearly; but there is also time for the mind to be in a less conscious condition when it can do things spontaneously - time or "free association" when one is not in control.
Thus, in many translations of Buddhist texts, vijnana is translated as "consciousness" and this then tends to be taken to mean consciousness as opposed to (rather than as including) the unconscious mind. This leads to the idea of getting rid of the unconscious, yet the unconscious is not only a source of trouble, it is also the source of wisdom. Also, we have to ask, "conscious of what?" When one concentrates upon one thing, many other things disappear from awareness. One cannot be conscious of everything. Consciousness inevitably only focusses upon one bit of the perceptual field.
The true goal is not that one be conscious and aware all the time, but rather that one's virtue become so well internalised that it becomes second nature. When something is completely well learnt, one is no longer consciously aware of what one knows. When learning (to drive a car, for instance) one is conscious of every move, but when one has learnt (eg. when one can drive well) one does not think about it, one just does it and most of what one does (accelerating, changing gears, turning the steering wheel) one does without any particular consciousness. It is completely integrated. A truly generous person is not particularly conscious of being generous - he just does what seems obvious to him.
In therapy the therapist needs to have skill in concentration, but many of the most important things happen out of conscious awareness.
Trusting the heart/mind
It is important therefore to have faith in the process that is happening (a) inside the client, (b) between the client and the primary rupa(s), and (c) between the client and therapist. The therapist cannot possibly be aware of all dimensions at the same time. If she is focussed upon "the problem" she is probably missing the expression on the client's face; if she is watching his expression and body language she may have forgotten what he said five minutes ago; if she is remembering everything he said she may not notice that he is visualising a significant rupa; if she is noticing his relationship to important rupas, she has no time to analyse whether the story he has told makes logical sense; and so on. The therapist has to have faith that many dimensions of the process will unfold naturally; that if she has the right good hearted attitude and keeps the client focussed upon the conditions that are most relevant, everything will work out of its own accord.
This, however, is not a weakness, it is a strength. What the client gets from therapy above all else is an increased faith in life and it is important that this is modelled by the therapist. The therapist believes in the client. The client might not believe in himself, but he starts to sense that the therapist has faith in him. This confidence is infectious and the client gradually gets and increase in his own confidence.
To say that people lack faith in this way is really the same thing as saying that their heart has been hidden by scales. The faith is there, but it is buried. Life is difficult. we receive many knocks. Sometimes we become anxious. Sometimes we can only cope by practising denial. There is a middle way between anxiety and denial, but it is not always easy to find.
When we do not have confidence in the client we try to control him, but this can never really work for long. The client is responsible for his own life. The inexperienced counsellor tends to pass moral judgement on everything the client says and then wants to force the client to fit into the therapist's ideals. This, however, is not therapy - it is just the therapist using the client in the service of her own ego. We looked at a stereotypical example - a client who beats his son - and discussed in small groups how one counsels somebody who does things one disagrees with.
Qustion and Answer
Q: Is 24/7 consciousness the goal? - this is answered in the discussion above
Q: What was meant by saying that "imagination as bridge"?
A: The "bridge" has two ends. One end is in our conscious, deliberate mind and the other is beyond. Thus in the case of the vision of Queen Videhi, the visualisation practised by Ananda was contrived by his deliberate intention, but the vision that came to Videhi herself came from the other side of the bridge. We might say that the other side is the "other shore" referred to in Buddhism, or is the Pure Land, or we might say that it is the unconscious mind or whatever. Phenomenologically, it comes to us. It comes from somewhere beyond the conscious mind.
Q: Is senile dementia a loss of alaya?
A: Certainly in senile dementia that person loses contact with much of the memory of this present life. Whether that memory is destroyed or siply becomes inaccessible is difficult to tell. Reminiscence therapy can have some success in helping people to restore some memory, though results are usually modest. To some extent this matter remains a mystery.
Q: How can the faith of the client be increased?
Essentially there are two routes. One is by resolving the obstacles to faith in the client's life. The other is through the infectious nature of faith of therapist. Therapy is a mixture of the effects of the work that the client does by relating to the significant rupas in his life and the effects of being in the relationship with the therapist. These two work together.
Finally we did some counselling exercises, working in threes.